The trilogy that is the final artistic result of my research project, share one common feature: The element of improvisation and its open form is present in all the music created. My archive box constitutes a body of images that gives me the possibility to enter wide multiphonic landscapes. The emphasize is on the relations between the individual elements, their changes and how the structures unfold during improvisations. Is the music composed or improvised? I have to admit that I have a problematic relationship with how these terms often have been treated as opposites in the musical discourse. I consider all music to be composed (in the meaning ‘put together’), and in the process improvisation is obviously a part of that. If one claims that a composition is about a detailed notated score, my music on these albums are probably not compositions, but solely improvisations. So, instead of entering a lengthy discussion on improvisation versus composition, I will leave that to other research projects and others interested in that discourse. In this chapter, my concern is on revealing how I have created the music out of the extensive work being done in the process of gathering sonics in my archive box.
6.1 Dogma consequences
I have previously discussed how I have investigated the intrinsic quality of multiphonics as well as my own artistic intention to reach out for a particular ‘sound image.’ These two approaches to the sonorities are intertwined during both the study and the performative explorations. Referring to Dogma 8, the music should try to be unconcerned by any stylistic affiliation – which of course is a utopia (as the many possible influences revealed in chapter 4 indicates). Even if this is not entirely possible, it has still been an ideal and an overall working attitude, thus allowing the use of my sonic findings to enter into an open space continuum without having the restrictions of fitting into a particular style or genre of music. Furthermore, in the compositional process, I did not make use of any other instruments as manifested in Dogma 6. Practically, it meant that I did not compare, analyze or structure my sonics in comparison with a piano, guitar, tuner, software, or any other instruments other than my saxophones and trumpet. All the musical material was realized only through my own instruments – pitches and intonation were not checked or measured with the help of other instruments etc. This is not to say that I isolated myself totally to other sounds, as I have told in Chapter 4 – underwater sounds were used and conscious or unconscious musical influences appear in my music of course. Nonetheless, this is evidently a highly idiosyncratic, heuristic, and rigid approach. I believe it allowed me to come closer to the sonics’ inner quality and to a singularity in the music.
My intention was that the hunted and gathered sonorities, the further manipulation of them, and the structuring and shaping of them merges, where a new aesthetic balance of freedom of expression and formal consciousness can be reached.
6.2 Strategies of composition and improvisation
The music on the trilogy is created out of mainly three compositional strategies, with each one of the albums chiefly belonging to one of these strategies:
1. Free improvisation
2. Open form composition
3. Post-composed improvisations
(Non of them uses detailed notated material).
It could perhaps also be called freely improvised, instant composing, or real-time composition. Nevertheless, this strategy, or one could say attitude, is the primary compositional tool used on The Reed Trumpet album, yet it is heavily present in the two others. The starting point for many of the pieces with a free improvisation strategy can be a small instrumental technical idea, a certain instrument preparation, a vague idea of form or dramaturgy, a metaphor, a small conceptual thought or a musical fragment/gesture to start from, arrive at, and so on. I believe the playfulness, the occasional lack of control and the very freshness of playing the reed trumpet naturally led to a series of freely improvised pieces. The performances tend not to be burdened by a historical baggage that sometimes can weigh my saxophone playing down. Something I think is unavoidable when one has a long relationship with an instrument. I simply felt more free on the reed trumpet, and in the process was quite open to what came out of the horn and eager to interact and explore, without judging too much about the result. In short, I was able to be in the (improvisational) process while not being too concerned about the (compositional) result.
[Examples of free improvisations: all tracks on The Reed Trumpet album and Periechon and Stellar Droplets (from the Plateau album)]
Open form composition
On the Plateau album, I go back and forth between free improvisation and what I call ‘open form composition.’ I believe the latter strategy is chiefly a result of striving to create music for the saxophone that somehow could open new grounds and seriously also take on the underwater influences. I became aware that I had been working so intensely with the saxophone multiphonics that I had entered into a compositional structuring modus. In order to get the multiphonic findings embodied in my playing, I planned to introduce them gradually into performances. Since I wanted to avoid the use of all the conventional techniques, I constantly needed new multiphonic material to improvise on. Hence, I felt the need to structure my improvisations more, and tended to prepare more specific material for my saxophone improvisations than I would usually do. The challenge here was to still be able to sculpt them freely and not make too many decision in advance. I ended up using ‘open form composition’ as a strategy. Accordingly, some of the pieces have precomposed elements of a particular ordering of multiphonics, or the improvisation might ‘dance around’ a series of multiphonics that somehow was aesthetically related. Nevertheless, I had the freedom of deciding to introduce any other imaginable material during performances, drifting in and out of the pre-planned ones. Gradually, as my box of embodied multiphonic sonics grew, I was able to improvise even more freely with them. But, the ‘open form’ compositions represent pieces that can offer me an ‘anchor’ during a solo set now. If they are played freely enough, they exhibit music with a distinct character that I tend to like entering and explore.
[Examples of Open form composition: Plateau #3 and Sulphur Harmonics (from the Plateau album)]
Post-composed improvisations The Wind Of Mouth album is created in what I term as ‘post-composed improvisations’ – one could also call it ‘post-edited improvisations’. In these pieces, I would think that the composer in me is at full work. Moving away from making split-second compositional decisions to taking all the time I need to organize the material. It is carefully constructed pieces with a lot of editing, cutting and form building considerations. It was also an album that took a lot of effort during the recording sessions and in the mixing/editing process. The album is, as I have talked about, a realization of an ‘ensemble of me’. I wanted to work with dense layers of multiphonics, and in the process I recorded a vast amount of improvisations and constructed a sort of sampling library. ‘With me, the plan and the piece develop at the same rate’ says Ligeti in the opening quote of this chapter. This is true of the pieces composed here. The process was directed by improvisations, trying out different material in a very intuitive way. Moving back and forth from improvising while recording - in order to capture what I intuitively do - then stepping back and analyzing and codifying those moments, that strikes me as interesting and filled with potential. Sometimes also the improvising was initiated by a particular concept, vision or idea. Gradually they started to grow into longer pieces of music, put together in sequences of musical events created in the moment. In some cases, recorded again when the overall compositional structures felt clearer to me. All the time I was reacting spontaneously to the material already recorded, building layers of sounds. Afterwards, I started taking away, altering and adding more to the recorded material, and finally shaping them into whole pieces.
[Examples of post composed improvisations: Harbor Cry #3, Winds of Mouth and April Flourish from the Winds of Mouth album)]
6.3 Textures, Structures and Form
The musical material that is the foundation in the music is the techniques discussed in details in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. As I have explained, these techniques often directly initiate ideas for both texture, structure and form. The list presented here is what tends to trigger me and are widely explored in the recordings:
- Multiphonics played with polyrhythmic fingering structures, separating left and right hand. Consequently, creating a quasi polyphonic impression. (Variable speed and with very flexible embouchure, creating a wide frequency spectrum)
- Multiphonics - isolating one single sound, which often creates a very different timbral quality. These are used mainly as a direct inspiration from wooden flutes (like Shakuhachi) Breathy, transparent and also have contours of barely audible harmonic particles.
- Multiphonics soft, very airy timbre (contours)
- Multiphonics for noise/distortion
- Multiphonics for punctuation
- Multiphonics with further manipulation adding all possible instrumental techniques. (superimposed)
- Preparation of the saxophone: water bottles in the bell, silverpaper in front of bell etc.
- Multiphonics creating specific harmonical and/or melodical structures (finding tonal and harmonic connections between them)
- Multiphonics with drastic character change by embouchure positions and/or by applying different dynamics.
- Development of an aesthetic syntax that pulls series of sonics coherently together.
- Using circular breathing to create lengthy timespans (uninterrupted sounds) with variations in the textures and structure.
- Multiphonics with spatial focus – slow textural variation using different pressure on reed, tongue positions, attacks and oscillating keys (enharmonic trills etc.)
- Reed Trumpet: the use of trumpet mutes and other objects: metal plates, fabrics, water bowl.
- Reed Trumpet: breathing and whistling into the tube amplified by the trumpet bell (white noise texture).
- Reed Trumpet: bass-heavy, yet soft multiphonics and the ability to move between them with ease.
- Reed Trumpet: Loud distorted multiphonics for long circular breathed phrases or for punctuation.
In structuring and shaping the musical material created through these techniques, I work very intuitively. By the same token, I will not go into the details regarding my specific compositional tools, but rather reveal some major concerns.
My main interest in the improvisations and compositions is to create a purpose of each sound event and finding the right placement for them. I realize that I have a strong desire of wanting to create a narrative in my music and musicking. To be concerned with how the different sound events enter into a dialogue with each other, moving from something to something else and in the process focusing on the transformation phases of these. Either the transformation involves a gradual development, or have a more abrupt character. In both cases, the music primarily has a temporal focus. I enter into different musical situations and explore the connections between them. The contrasting material here could be different structures and parameters of pulse and rhythmic characteristics (meter, rubato, small or larger cells of rhythm, polyrhythms etc.), the overall duration of the events, different dynamics, dissonant or consonant melodic and harmonic pitch considerations and the density and range of these, timbral qualities, or every kind of articulations and playing techniques that produce different expressive results.
However, working with multiphonics, a musical material so rich in texture, I got increasingly attracted to go against my former tendency of entering into a temporal and narrative focus in the music and instead be more concerned about the spatiality. Instead of a restless motion from one musical zone to another, I got more occupied with working in one zone and exploring what can take place inside it. Not restlessly leaving it to create a direction in the music, but staying within it and patiently investigating the possibilities of subtle variations of dynamics, textures, small rhythmical elements, oscillating between neighbouring frequencies in the pitches and so forth. Letting these elements slowly interact with each other, sometimes creating repetitions with small mutations or freezing them, enabling a more static character to arise. To achieve this, I had to accept that the dramaturgical sequence of events were stretched out in time, allowing me to meditate on the sounds. I believe that this focus on spatiality was a natural consequence of nourishing and exploring the details of timbre and textures in my multiphonic material and drawing inspirations from the peacefulness of some of my underwater recordings.
The music on the recordings and in live performances balances between these temporal and spatial structuring and form shaping approaches. I have by no means rejected the narrative as such, but allowed myself to move between the musical sequences with more slowness and creating longer timespans of each sound events in my solo playing than I did before.
6.4 Recording, mixing and mastering
All the music on the albums were recorded in Denmark during the last part of 2015 and at various locations in Copenhagen and Sønderho. If the room I perform in has a very long reverb, that naturally makes it possible for the sounds to keep resonating in the room after I stop blowing the horn, enabling me to some degree to build layers of sounds in a very different way than in a total dry acoustic space. My music needed something in between. The places I chose to record in offered me an acoustic that was modestly reverberant and quite warm sounding, yet still made it possible to present any kind of musical material in them, from silently breathy sounds to punctuated load bursts without spinning the sounds around the room too much.
In Copenhagen, I had multiple sessions in two churches nearby my home, Sund Kirken and Philips Kirken. I had two recording sessions in the beautiful, peaceful island Fanø and its inspiring southern village, Sønderho. The rooms here were Sønderho Kirke and in Sønderho Forsamlinghus. Although the acoustics in all the mentioned places were quite similar, they had their small differences as well. To be able to use the particular acoustics in a room is something that is important to me. In improvised settings this is something that feels exciting to explore, drawing inspiration to how the room ‘speaks’ to you. Entering into a dialogue with the space so to say. It often alters how I work with a certain musical material and contribute to the shaping of the music. In live performances, both the room and the participants in it naturally informs my improvisations, to a degree that notated composition never will be able to do (if they are not written as site-specific compositions). I should also mention that on the Winds of Mouth album, I did some recording in my studio, exploiting a dry acoustic that was useful for some of the extensive, dense layering of the sounds.
All the recordings were made by me, using a ribbon microphone, microphone pre-amplifier, and analog/digital converter into the computers software recording program. I used approximately the same distance to the microphone and the same gain level throughout all the recording sessions. Most of the editing was also done by me and was then brought to Andreas Mjøs for further mixing.
In the mixing session, the recordings’ sound quality was optimized, some reverb was added to give the whole album a more homogeneous quality. In the case of the ensemble pieces in Winds of Mouth, the dynamic level was adjusted, and panning was added to offer more depth to the mix. Finally, the music was mastered by Helge Sten to optimize the sound to the different formats (CD, Digital, and LP). (Rigidly, one could claim that this way of mixing and mastering the album somehow conflicts with Dogma rule 6 (p.12 in the introduction) not allowing any electronic manipulation. But then again, I have not altered the pure acoustic sounds other than adding some reverb and optimizing the sound quality to have it presented neatly in the record format).